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Just in Time for Foster Youth….a Former Fed. Judge Sez Her Sentences Were Unfair….Fatal Encounters Between Cops and Mentally Ill….and Poor and Unrepresented in Civil Court

July 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

UNIQUE SAN DIEGO PROGRAM GIVES AGING OUT FOSTER KIDS A FAMILY OF VOLUNTEERS TO HELP THEM INTO ADULTHOOD

San Diego-based Just in Time for Foster Youth connects current and recently aged-out foster kids (between the ages of 18-26) with a network of volunteers to lean on, who will teach them and help them grow into self-sufficient young adults.

Foster youth aging out of the system face incredible challenges to finishing school and finding housing and employment. Many end up homeless. Within 18 months of emancipation, 40% of kids end up homeless, and within the first two years, 25% get locked up.

The majority of Just in Time’s volunteers are former foster kids. The hope is that the kids and their mentors form lifelong relationships. Volunteers go shopping with the kids, teach them about budgeting, and give them career advice and other help. The program pays to furnish participants’ first homes, and provides laptops and other important supplies for secondary education.

Leah Burdick founder of the Foster Coalition advocacy group, has more on the program for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

Since 2009, 35 percent of College Bound participants have graduated from college with many still enrolled; a significant achievement given only 1 to 3 percent of former foster youth graduate from college.

Just in Time’s relationship approach is coupled with comprehensive services and training programs to help youth overcome financial emergencies, get established at home and in school and learn valuable life and career skills.

“The need for tangible resources brings the youth to us, but we discovered that it’s the connections to multiple people that really enable self-sufficiency,” said Don Wells, executive director of Just in Time. “We would see kids get scholarships and graduate from college. They were considered success stories; however after they transitioned out of survival mode, past trauma would start coming up for them to deal with.”

Despite having an education, they’d either get a low-paying job or struggle to get a job, Wells said. “Before long they’d be on the verge of homelessness. These kids, like all of us, need multiple people to go to for ongoing advice, guidance, friendship and support.”

Jackie, who did not wish to provide her last name for this article, was placed in foster care at age 16 when social services discovered she was the only caregiver for her single father with advanced Alzheimer’s. After securing her GED, Jackie was accepted into college, but had no furnishings for her new college apartment.

Just in Time volunteers furnished her apartment, and today Jackie participates in their Career Horizons program. One of her mentors, an international marketer, has inspired Jackie to pursue a career in teaching abroad.

“Just in Time really provides a community for us. They get that ‘it takes a village’,” said Jackie.


FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE SAYS MOST OF THE DRUG SENTENCES SHE HANDED DOWN WERE UNFAIR

On Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Nancy Gertner, a federal judge for 17 years, said that of the 500 decisions she handed down, she believed that 80% of them were “unfair and disproportionate.”

In her speech (video above) Gertner, who is now Harvard faculty, urges the US to treat the War on Drugs like World War II, and focus on the future and reconstruction, instead of punishment.

Conor Friedersdorf has Gertner’s story for the Atlantic. Here’s a clip:

“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums… and created an intergenerational problem––although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble, and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”

She added that the War on Drugs eliminated the political participation of its casualties. “We were not leveling cities as we did in WWII with bombs, but with prosecution, prison, and punishment,” she said, explaining that her life’s work is now focused on trying to reconstruct the lives that she undermined––as a general matter, by advocating for reform, and as a specific project: she is trying to go through the list of all the people she sentenced to see who deserves executive clemency.


THE MENTALLY ILL AND DEADLY LAW ENFORCEMENT CONFRONTATIONS

According to an investigation by the Washington Post, so far this year, 124 of the 462 people shot and killed by law enforcement officers were in the middle of a mental health crisis.

Fifty percent of those shootings were by cops in departments that had not provided updated mental health training to their officers.

Fifty percent of the people shot were committing “suicide by cop.” Most of the shootings happened after officers responded to calls for help from family or neighbors who said the person was unstable, not calls about a crime being committed.

More than a fourth of the deaths occurred in California and Texas.

Here are some clips, but read the rest (and watch the video):

Although new recruits typically spend nearly 60 hours learning to handle a gun, according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, they receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill.

Otherwise, police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands.

But yelling and pointing guns is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Sandy Jo MacArthur is an assistant chief who oversees “mental response teams” for the Los Angeles Police Department, a program considered to be a national model. MacArthur said her officers are trained to embrace tactics that may seem counterintuitive. Instead of rushing to take someone into custody, they try to slow things down and persuade the person to come with them. When possible, a psychologist or psychiatrist is on the scene.

The mentally ill “do not process what is happening like a normal criminal,” MacArthur said. “There’s a lot of white noise in their head.”

[SNIP]

Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range. But training is no panacea, experts caution.

The mentally ill are unpredictable. Moreover, police often have no way of knowing when they are dealing with a mentally ill person. Officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong. And in a handful of cases this year, police were prodded to shoot someone who wanted to die.

That was the case with Matthew Hoffman, a 32-year-old white man who had long struggled with mental illness, according to family members. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Hoffman walked up to San Francisco police officers in January outside a police station in the bustling Mission District. He pulled a gun from his waistband, pointed it at the officers and advanced in silence.

The startled officers fired 10 shots, three of which struck Hoffman. They later discovered that his weapon was a BB gun. And they found a note on his mobile phone, addressed to the officers who shot him.

“You did nothing wrong,” it said. “You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”

Grace Gatpandan, San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman, said the department offers crisis-intervention training. But those classes are designed primarily to teach officers to handle someone threatening to jump off a bridge, not someone pointing a gun in a crowded tourist area.

“When officers are faced with a deadly situation, when there is a gun pointed at a cop, there is no time to go into mental health measures,” Gatpandan said. “There was nothing we could have done. This is one of those tragedies.”


POOR DEFENDANTS IN CIVIL COURT CASES ARE LEFT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES – HERE’S WHY THERE AREN’T ENOUGH LEGAL AID LAWYERS

In the US criminal justice system, everyone charged with a crime has a right to free legal counsel. But that right does not extend to indigent defendants in civil matters like family court hearings, evictions, and protective orders.

There are not nearly enough legal aid lawyers to help all defendants in civil cases who qualify for legal aid. For every 8,893 poor Americans who qualify for assistance, there is only one lawyer to go around.

Part of the problem is that lawyers and law firms are not donating enough to their state and local legal aid programs. The Am Law 200—the two hundred top-grossing firms—donated less than a tenth of one percent of their revenue on legal aid donations, according to a new report from the American Lawyer. Here’s a clip:

A network of legal service providers who represent the poor for free has arisen to address some of this need, but a lack of adequate public funds and private donations means that, as in Cleveland, more than half of those who seek help are turned away. Put another way, there’s just one legal aid lawyer for every 8,893 low-income Americans who qualify for legal aid, according to the Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. That’s how, in a country with one of the highest concentrations of lawyers in the world, poor people often are forced to navigate the potential loss of their home, their children or their benefits on their own.

The crisis in legal aid isn’t new. What is new is that since the recession, profits and revenue at Am Law 200 firms are healthy again—in many cases, surging. Last year, the collective revenue of these firms passed the $100 billion mark for the first time. Many recorded all-time highs in revenues and profits, and profits per partner at a dozen firms exceeded $3 million. Yet in our analysis—the first time we’ve looked deeply at firms’ legal aid giving—it appears that the most generous firms contribute little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of their gross revenue to groups that provide basic legal services for the poor, and many fall far below that amount. This doesn’t include individual donations by firm lawyers, which isn’t feasible to track. While individual donations are important, institutional giving by law firms is crucial for legal aid groups, those organizations say.

We found that the bulk of firms’ charitable donations are directed to other causes, including clients’ pet charities and well-endowed law schools, records show. At the same time, the percentage of law firm pro bono work aimed at helping the poor is declining. Legal aid advocates, however, are largely reluctant to publicly criticize big firms, because they’re so dependent on the funds they do get from them.

Lawyers and firms, especially America’s biggest and most successful ones, have a special responsibility to do more, some observers say. “A big- firm lawyer ought to care that the justice system is working fairly for everyone,” says John Levi of Sidley Austin, chairman of the board of directors for the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded nonprofit that is the single biggest source of legal aid funding in the United States. He senses that many big firms could dig deeper into their pockets to support legal aid. “I’m not sure they are,” he says.

David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that solicits firms to underwrite fellowships for young lawyers to work at nonprofit legal aid groups, says he appreciates the support he gets from big firms, but believes most firms should do more. “When you look at how little they give, it’s pitiful,” he says about law firm giving as a whole. “I have been doing this work for more than 20 years, and I am always astounded by law firms talking about charitable giving from a position of scarcity while their partners are bringing home more than $1 million in profits per partner.”

Posted in Courts, Foster Care, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

9th Circuit Grants Bail Pending Appeal for LA Sheriff’s Dept. 7 Convicted by Feds — And Why We Care

March 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted bond to the seven former members
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last year of obstruction of justice for their part in hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions.

The 9th first granted bond to former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was tried separately from the other six. (Actually, he was tried twice. Although he was convicted in September, 2014, his first trial, in the spring of last year, resulted in a six-six hung jury.) Then attorneys for the others were notified.

Sexton and the six were scheduled to surrender early this year to begin their various prison sentences—ranging from 18 to 41 months—but, although they were denied bail by Judge Percy Anderson, the original presiding judge in their respective trials, before their surrender dates arrived, the 9th granted all seven a stay—meaning their lock-up dates were put off while the appeals court figured out whether or not it was going to hear the cases.


OKAY, SO WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT BAIL?

The grant of bond—or bail as it is more commonly known—is significant, because, according to a source knowledgeable about the matter, this means that the three judge panel that issued the bond order thought, as the source put it, “there is a significant issue likely to result in reversal on appeal.”

The source cautioned, however, that the panel that granted the motion most likely won’t be the same three judges who will hear the case, so views of these three may not hold sway.

Yet, there is a possibility that the panel will stay the same, said our source. “I’m pretty sure the panel will shift, but sometimes on an expedited appeal (which this is) they may keep it.”



YES, BUT WILL THIS AFFECT FUTURE FEDERAL INDICTMENTS?

As we noted earlier, various members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department—present and former—were subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury in December of last year, and at the beginning of 2015. According to sources, those questioned were asked almost solely about the obstruction of justice issues for which the seven former LASD members just granted bond were convicted, in particular the actions of former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and Captain Tom Carey who was relieved of duty in December of last year, pending an unnamed investigation.

One presumes that all this grand jury testifying has been in pursuit of some kind of additional indictments, although there is, of course, no guarantee.

Several we spoke to speculated, therefore, that the feds might be waiting to see the outcomes of the above appeals before moving forward with any new, high profile charges—if there are to be any such charges.

There has been, and continues to be, much criticism that, in indicting the seven convicted of obstruction—three of whom were deputies at the time, two were sergeants, and two were lieutenants—the feds were picking low-hanging fruit, so to speak, while leaving those who actually gave the orders that reportedly set the obstruction in motion, completely untouched.

In any case, this story is far from over, so…stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, FBI, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 23 Comments »

Michael Brown: “Deader than a Roadkill Dog”….Police Unions’ Open Letters: Violence Against Cops….Prosecutors’ PowerPoint Misbehavior…and More

December 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

A PARODY SONG ABOUT THE DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN PERFORMED AT LAPD RETIREE’S DINNER

While inflammatory language launched at police officers is being justifiably slammed, a parody song about Michael Brown’s death performed at a retired LAPD officer’s dinner party at the Glendale Elks Lodge last Monday was caught on video and leaked to TMZ.

The song, a play on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce, includes lyrics like, “”Michael Brown learned a lesson, about a messin’ with a bad police man, and he’s bad, bad Michael Brown, baddest thug in the whole darn town…” and “Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese, his brain was splattered on the floor.”

According to TMZ, private investigator Gary Fishell wrote and performed the parody song. Here’s a clip from the original story:

Singer Gary Fishell is a P.I. who once worked as an investigator for the Federal Government. His lawyer tells TMZ, Fishell now realizes the song was “off color and in poor taste.” The lawyer adds, “He’s a goofball who writes funny songs.” We asked why Fishell would sing this in a room full of cops, and the lawyer replied, “He thought the room would get a kick out of it.”

Joe Myers tells TMZ, “How can I dictate what he [Fishell] says in a song?” Myers goes on, “This is America. We can say what we want. This is a free America.” Myers adds … he’s done this as an annual event for decades and has raised a lot of money for charity.

Chief Charlie Beck took to Twitter to address the issue: “I am aware of the video released via TMZ. Like many of you, I find it offensive & absurd. It does not reflect the values of the #LAPD. I have directed our Professional Standards Bureau to look into this & determine if any active department employees were involved.”

KPCC has more on the incident. Here’s a clip:

Investigators are looking into whether any current LAPD officers attended the Dec. 15 party, which was thrown by a retired LAPD official at an Elks Lodge in Glendale.

“Simply being present at an event obviously does not constitute misconduct,” said LAPD officer Drake Madison.

[SNIP]

In a written statement, the LAPD echoed Beck’s sentiments and called the performance “stunningly offensive and absurd,” while noting that it was not a department-sponsored event. Madison said the song was performed by a former detective who retired from the force in 2007. The department does not believe that the event raised any money for the LAPD.

NOTE: The small headline mistakenly read that the song was performed at an “LASD Retiree’s Dinner,” when it was an LAPD dinner. Many apologies for that error!


CALIFORNIA LAW ENFORCEMENT UNIONS’ NUANCED RESPONCES TO MURDERS OF NYPD OFFICERS

In the wake of murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu over the weekend, California law enforcement groups are reaching for a more balanced way to approach a complex issue.

President of Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), Brian Moriguchi, urges the public and local officials to work with law enforcement agencies to create real reform, while he calls for an end to racially charged violence against rank-and-file law enforcement officers. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA) is outraged by the recent murders of police officers throughout this country. These attacks on our nation’s police officers are directly and indirectly related to the racial tensions fueled by anti-police groups and the racial agendas of select politicians and race mongers.

Our jobs as police officers are dangerous enough without incitement to violence against officers by those with agendas and racial bias. We should be advocating for change, not violence. We should be advocating for accountability, not retribution. Police officers are human beings and as human beings, we are not perfect. But the vast majority of police officers are honest, hard-working professionals who place themselves in harm’s way to protect people, even those who despise them. They don’t deserve the hostility levied against them. Advocating violence is not the solution.

The recent violence at protests and the execution of officers are a result of irresponsible leadership at the national and local level. We, as a society, need to work together to resolve racial issues and strained relationships with the police and our government. Both community members and the police need to join together to reform police policies and accountability to ensure the highest level of conduct by our officers.

The three presidents of the Oakland Police Officers Association, the San Jose Police Officers Association, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association also wrote an open letter to Bay Area residents. Here’s a clip:

The protests that followed the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York are a legitimate expression of our First Amendment traditions. The reaction is not unexpected but the vilification of front-line public servants by some politicians and media pundits has been demoralizing and unjust. Public safety in the Bay Area and the nation will be a subject of major debate going forward and we will each participate vigorously in that debate.

But what few have acknowledged until now is that too often the legitimate expression of views has devolved into vilification and violence against this nation’s front-line public safety servants. Demonstrators in New York chanted in unison: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” That was disgraceful…

The overwhelming majority of our members—who represent the most diverse police departments in the nation—bear such malice in dignified silence. Even following the murder of three of their own, our officers continue with their duty, answer your calls, respond to your crises, fulfill their mission, and honor their commitment to the people of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

In short, they will always be there when you need them. In return, as their “voices” we simply ask that you join them in a cooperative effort to keep our streets safe, and to engage in constructive dialogue that calls for a common sense approach to very complex issues.


PROBLEMATIC POWERPOINT VISUALS BY PROSECUTORS: A NEW FORM OF MISCONDUCT

In the past, we at WLA have pointed out a number of stories of prosecutorial misconduct involving breaches such as withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, coercing witnesses, and perjury.

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong tells of a relatively new form of prosecutorial misbehavior that has been cropping up in courts nationwide: inflammatory PowerPoint slides. The most common infraction involves strategically placing the word “guilty” in red, all-caps letters across a picture of the defendant. Prosecutors are expected to leave their opinions about the case at the door, and instead present evidence to make their points.

Here are some clips from Armstrong’s story, but jump over to the original for the rest (including photos of the PowerPoint slides):

At least 10 times in the last two years, US courts have reversed a criminal conviction because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint. In even more cases, an appellate court has taken note of such misconduct while upholding the conviction anyway or while reversing on other grounds (as in the case of Sergey Fedoruk). Legal watchdogs have long asserted that prosecutors have plenty of ways to quietly put their thumb on the scales of justice —such as concealing exculpatory evidence, eliminating jury-pool members based on race, and so on. Now they can add another category: prosecution by PowerPoint. “It’s the classic ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’” said Eric Broman, a Seattle attorney who focuses on criminal appeals. “Until the courts say where the boundaries are, prosecutors will continue to test the boundaries.”

Perhaps the most common misuse of what some legal scholars call “visual advocacy” is the emblazoning of the word “Guilty” across a defendant’s photo. Almost always the letters are red—the “color of blood and the color used to denote losses,” as one court wrote.

[SNIP]

The use of sophisticated visuals in the courtroom has boomed in recent years, thanks to research on the power of show-and-tell. DecisionQuest, a trial consulting firm, tells lawyers that when they give jurors information verbally, only 10 percent of them retain it after three days. But if the lawyers provide that information visually as well, juror retention zooms to 65 percent. Lawyers in both civil and criminal cases have seized upon this advantage, integrating visuals ranging from simple slides to animated graphics into their courtroom presentations. In one civil case in Los Angeles County, a plaintiff spent $60,000 on a PowerPoint slide show.


STATES MOVING TO HELP EX-OFFENDERS HAVE BETTER OUTCOMES, BUT MORE COULD BE DONE TO CUT COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

A new Vera Institute report takes a look at what reforms states have adopted in the last five years to minimize the crippling secondary consequences of incarceration on people attempting to reenter their communities and families. (These consequences include difficulties obtaining employment, housing, education, the ability to vote, and more.) The report shows that while the majority of states (41) have taken 155 legislative steps to alleviate post-incarceration penalties, much more can be done to improve outcomes for former inmates and their families (and thus, reduce recidivism).

California has passed 10 reforms, including legislation to expand the pool of people with misdemeanors who are eligible for expungement, and legislation to establish wraparound services for mentally ill parolees at risk of being homeless.

Here’s a clip from the summary:

While efforts to remove or alleviate the impact of collateral consequences may indicate a broader shift in how the criminal justice system views law-breakers, vast numbers of post-punishment penalties remain in place and a closer look at recent legislation suggests that efforts do not go far enough. In particular:

* Reforms are narrow in scope;

* Relief mechanisms are not easily accessible;

* Waiting periods are long in many cases; and

* New rules restricting third-party use of criminal history are difficult to enforce.

Policymakers interested in promoting safer communities and better outcomes for justice-involved people and their families would do well to pursue sustainable and comprehensive reforms that:

* Promote the full restoration of rights and status as close as possible to sentence completion;

* Apply remedies to more people;

* Make remedies easier to access; and

* Establish clear standards for, and offer incentives to, third-party decision makers (e.g. landlords, employers, college admissions officers, etc.).

Posted in Charlie Beck, Courts, law enforcement, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 45 Comments »

André Birotte Gets Robed Up….Brown Foes Say Realignment Causes Crime But Stats Say Otherwise….When Mental Disabilities Lead to Harsh School Discipline….& PPOA McDonnell Interview, Part 2….

October 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ANDRÉ BIROTTE SWORN IN AS FEDERAL JUDGE

By 4 p.m. on Friday night, courtroom 650 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building —plus two overflow rooms—were absolutely jammed with judges, lawyers, higher echelon law enforcement types, local lawmakers and others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, all of whom had come to witness the formal investiture of André Birotte Jr as a United States District Judge.

Birotte, if you remember, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama on April 3, 2014, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on July 22, 2014 (an impressive feat in itself, considering the current fractious state of that august body).

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 with a B.A. in psychology, then came to Southern California to attend Pepperdine University School of Law. He began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to redefine and reform itself. Birotte is generally acknowledged as a significant part of that reform.

In 2009, while he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, after Senator Diane Feinstein strongly recommended him. Five years later, Feinstein again recommended him for the judgeship.

“In 15 years of [vetting] people for the senator,” said Trevor Daley, Feinstein’s state director who was tasked to check up on Birotte. “I’ve never gotten the kind of positive feedback on anyone as I did on André.”

Other speakers at the investiture were similarly effusive.

Birotte was a “champion on the individual as well as serving the underserved,” said former police commission chairman Rick Caruso. “Yet he never sought the spotlight.

Eric Holder praised Birotte for cracking down on public corruption and drug trafficking while also understanding that “we will never be able to prosecute and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” Holder also pointed to CASA, the sentencing diversion program that Birotte championed, “which serves as a model for smart on crime initiatives throughout the nation.”

Now Birotte would be “strengthening and making more fair the justice system to which he has given so much of his life,” said Holder.

When it came time for the newly-minted judge himself to speak, Birotte quoted a poetry fragment by poet Antonio Machado, that he said had influenced him.

…Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Indeed, Birotte doesn’t appear to have set his sites on the positions he has attained as part of some grandly ambitious lifeplan. Instead, according to his own account, and the accounts of those who lauded him on Friday, he has arrived at the present moment by “walking,” as the poet suggests—a.k.a. by doing the work that appeared before him, while guided by a strong sense of justice and compassion.

In fact, if it had not been for his wife’s encouragement, Birotte told investiture crowd, “I’m not sure that I would have put myself out for these positions.”

Birotte thanked a long list of people (including his faithful group of morning workout partners at his gym). He confided to the crowd that among the most important talismans he brought with him into his new courtroom were “my father’s medical bag and one of the many purses that my mom would keep by her side.”

At the mention of his mom, who died just a few years ago, Birotte choked up visably. He struggled similarly when he told his wife how much she and their kids meant to him, and also when he thanked Judge Terry Hatter, who had been a longtime hero, and who swore him in. Each time, the “baby judge,” as he called himself, was refreshingly unapologetic for his unruly emotions.

Although the investiture began just after 4 p.m., more than three hours later guests still lingered at the post-ceremony reception in the Roybal building’s lobby, as if wishing to bask a bit longer in the evening’s prevailing sentiment—namely that this particular judgeship, thankfully, had landed in very good hands.


AS ELECTIONS HEAT UP BROWN OPPONENTS SAY REALIGNMENT MADE CALIF. COMMUNITIES LESS SAFE, BUT ACTUAL NUMBERS SAY OTHERWISE

As we noted yesterday, although realignment was not originally a big issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, now Jerry Brown’s opponents are bringing up the topic with increasing frequency. Yet, while critics’ contend that realignment has harmed public safety, the state’s still falling crime figures don’t agree. Still, when it comes to pointing to lasting victories for the governor’s signature policy, even Brown and other advocates admit that realignment is a complicated work in progress.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has more on the story (via the Sacramento Bee). Here are some clips:

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks re-election next month, Republicans say decisions he made to reduce prison overcrowding are endangering the public by putting more criminals on the streets.

About 13,000 inmates a month are being released early from crowded county jails while they await trial or before they complete their full sentences. More than 5,000 state prisoners had earlier releases this year because of federal court orders, legislation signed by the governor and a recently approved state ballot initiative.

Yet those statistics don’t tell the full story.

Crime rates statewide actually dropped last year and did so across all categories of violent and property offenses, from murder and rape to auto theft and larceny, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Justice.

[BIG SNIP]

Even as crime rates have dropped, realignment is presenting challenges for counties throughout the state. The total county jail population in California has increased by nearly 11,000 inmates since realignment took effect in October 2011.

Probation departments now handle offenders whose most recent convictions are for lower-level crimes but who may have serious or violent criminal histories.

County officials also say they are ill-equipped to deal with other offenders who used to go state prisons, including those with mental illness and those serving multi-year sentences.

“The population most likely to be the most problematic is the population being funneled to the counties,” said Margarita Perez, who was acting chief of the state’s parole division before realignment took effect in October 2011 and now is assistant probation chief in Los Angeles County.

Despite the tougher population, probation officers said they are becoming better at handling those inmates.

“There’s more of a culture of tolerance, more of a culture of using any resources at your disposal to try to get this individual to turn around instead of a philosophy of lock them up,” Perez said.

Dean Pfoutz is one of those trying to benefit from the new emphasis on rehabilitation.

His roughly two decade-long criminal history includes a three-year prison sentence for assault and another eight years for an assault causing serious injury to a girlfriend. He most recently served 16 months for receiving stolen property.

Despite his violent past, he is being supervised by Sacramento County probation officers instead of state parole agents because his most recent crime, possession of stolen property, is considered a lower-level offense.

Pfoutz said he is benefiting from the county’s approach.

“It’s more hands-on here than parole. With parole, it’s like, ‘Just don’t get arrested,’” he said before attending a self-help class at the probation center he visits five days a week. “They’re pulling for us to do all right.”


SPECIAL ED LEADS TO THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR TOO MANY AMERICAN STUDENTS

Although much of the concern about the disproportionate use of over-harsh school discipline has been focused on students of color, experts are increasingly aware that kids with mental disabilities are also disproportionately pushed into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz of the Juvenile Justice Education Exchange have the story. Here’s a clip:

Cody Beck was 12-years -old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader was released from the facility and charged with three counts of assault.

Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of Cody’s disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been given an Individual Education Program, or IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations, and classes that a special education student should receive to help manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school. He was called to youth court three times in the four months after the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that time as he waited to start at a special private school.

Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

…..The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.

In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Federal law requires schools to provide an education for kids with disabilities in an environment as close to a regular classroom as possible. But often, special needs students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college or career. For youth with disabilities who end up in jail, education can be minimal, and at times, non-existent, even though federal law requires that they receive an education until age 21.



PAY TO PLAY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS—THAT’S CLEARLY CORRUPTION, SAYS JIM MCDONNELL IN NEW PPOA INTERVIEW

In Part 2 of the 3-part interview series that PPOA Prez Brian Moriguchi has conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, the candidate talks about personnel issues, like promotion strategies, and other matters that have been subject to corruption at the LASD in the past—plus how he plans to “put the shine back” on the badge “that means the world” to so many officers.


ALSO, SEE REPORT ON WEEKEND FORUM WITH MCDONNELL BY FRANK STOLTZE

KPPC’S Frank Stoltze reports that Jim McDonnell, the frontrunner for Los Angeles County Sheriff, “…is not yet prepared to support subpoena power for a proposed citizen’s oversight panel, although authority watchdogs say is important to reforming the troubled department.”

Read the rest of Stoltze’s report here.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

Deputy James Sexton Trial, Day 4: Should the Prosecution Be Able to Edit Testimony?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the final “witness” for the prosecution in the retrial
of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was James Sexton himself.

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

As they had done in Sexton’s first trial, the government finished up its case with someone from the prosecution’s camp reading an excerpt from Sexton’s November 28, 2012 grand jury testimony, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

At Sexton’s first trial, the approximately 75-minute dramatic recreation provided the prosecution with plenty of legal ammunition since, in it, Sexton cheerfully admitted to such things as having helped to hide inmate Anthony Brown. Yet the testimony seemed to produce a variety of effects on its listeners, in that Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, rather than defensive or guarded, as if he was doing his best to be helpful to the feds, overly so, really–—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that much of many of his words would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

Interestingly, the jurors for that first trial took the grand jury testimony so seriously that, as they were deliberating, they asked to have the whole thing read to them, one more time. Then, although six of those jurors voted to convict, six voted to acquit.

Friday’s grand jury presentation was structured in much the same way as that of the first trial, with someone reading Sexton’s part, and prosecutor Liz Rhodes playing the prosecutor. Again, the reading was taken from Sexton’s November 28, 2012, grand jury appearance. (Deputy Sexton appeared in front of the grand jury twice, first in August 2012, then in November, more than a year after the events in question took place in August and September 2011.)

Yet Friday’s excerpt was quite a bit shorter than that of last May, lasting around 45 minutes, not the 75 minutes of the first trial. More importantly, various topics, contexts and shadings of meaning present in the first trial’s version, are absent from the second.

They have been edited out.

For instance, in a couple of instances in the first trial, Sexton talked about orders that he had been given having come from higher up than just his then immediate boss, Lt. Greg Thompson; that the orders were coming from Paul Tanaka, and/or Lee Baca. He also talked about how, in some cases, he and other deputies had to use Tanaka’s name to get others to cooperate.

In the version read on Friday, the references to higher ups, to the “big bosses,” or to Tanaka or Baca, are cut—leaving the impression that Sexton is not merely one more team member following orders that come from the department’s highest levels, but more of a planner and an originator of strategies, along with Lt. Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Micky Manzo—three of the six who have been convicted.

In another instance, a paragraph is deleted that explains the fact that the adversarial attitude to the FBI expressed by some of the OSJ personnel—namely by deputies Smith and Manzo—was not one shared by Sexton and his closer friends on the squad, and that they’d talked with each other about this division.

(Operation Safe Jails, or OSJ, was where Sexton worked in 2011, and was the squad that was tasked with hiding federal informant Brown.)

When the qualifying statements that separate Sexton and his buddies from this adversarial attitude toward the feds are edited from Friday’s version, one is left with the impression that the attitude is pervasive throughout the squad and that Sexton surely shares it—giving his actions with Brown a critical intent that might otherwise be absent had the edits been restored.

In other cases, some of Sexton’s impressions are made to appear as solid knowledge, rather than the gossip-driven surmises, or conclusions likely drawn after the fact, that they are shown to be in the longer, less-edited versions.

And so on.

In other words, a strong argument can be made that these and other similar edits change the context and meaning of some of Sexton’s testimony in very crucial ways.

Certain of the changes that the snips produce are subtle, but cumulatively they could make a difference to a jury.


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

Sexton’s attorneys say no, and point to legal precedents that agree with them.

In a motion in Limine [a pretrial request] made in August, Sexton’s lawyers asked the judge to fix the matter by ordering that the problematic cuts be put back in. The motion reads in part:

Deputy Sexton will and hereby does move for an order requiring the Government to present an accurate rendition of his testimony before the Federal Grand Jury on the grounds that the excerpts of testimony offered by the Government are misleading and incomplete and that Deputy Sexton will be prejudiced by the Government’s failure to include testimony (included in his first trial) regarding (a) the fact that Deputy Sexton was acting on orders issued by the command and control structure of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”); (b) the fact that Deputy Sexton did not have credible, first-hand knowledge necessary to find him guilty of obstruction of justice; and (c) the fact that Deputy Sexton offered demonstrably mistaken testimony regarding the facts of this action. Failure to include this testimony suggests, contradictory to his testimony as read into the record at the last trial, that Deputy Sexton was not acting on orders from LASD authority reaching as high as Sheriff Leroy Baca, and that Deputy Sexton was aware of certain facts of which he had no knowledge. This renders his testimony, as heavily edited by the Government, misleading.

Judge Anderson evidently sided with the government that the cuts were fine. Thus the edits remained.


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will testify Monday morning. Unless something changes, however, it now does not appear that former sheriff Lee Baca will be called.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 40 Comments »

It’s Official: André Birotte is the New Federal Judge in Town!

July 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, in a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate, André Birotte Jr.
was confirmed to become the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The cloture vote to end debate that came earlier in the day may have been a party-line-driven 56-43. But when it came to the actual vote to confirm Birotte, partisan quarrels were put aside and the final tally was an easy 100-0.

Since 2010, André Birotte, 47, has served as the U.S. Attorney of California’s Central District, the nation’s most populous, which has the responsibility for all federal litigation in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Under Birotte’s tenure, his office oversaw a complex variety of cases that spanned issues ranging from gang violence and narcotics sales, to terrorism, public corruption, white collar crime, cyber crime, and the nether world of financial predators–and more. The cases themselves included such high profile indictments as the bribery and money laundering charges brought against California state senator Ron Calderon and his brother, former state assembly member, Thomas Calderon—and, of course, the indictments of 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, who were charged as part of a still ongoing federal investigation into brutality and corruption inside the nation’s fourth largest law enforcement agency.

Among his other accomplishments as the U.S. Attorney, Birotte reinstated the district’s public corruption and civil rights sections, which had been disbanded. He also instituted an unusual amount of outreach into the various communities his office served.

“We have to be willing to listen to the community,” he said a few months into his first year as U.S.A.. “So we’re going to do outreach like never before.”

Birotte also repeated often that his office must be justice driven. “Firm but fair,” he said. “But more than anything, justice-driven. It’s not just about winning.”

The son of Haitian immigrants, after graduating from Tufts University in 1987 with a degree in psychology, followed by Pepperdine University School of Law four years later, Birotte began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same Central District office he now heads.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General after a nationwide search. His selection came at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to figure out how to redefine and reform itself within the confines of a federal consent decree. Birotte is generally acknowledged as an important part of that reform.

While he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, in December 2009, after being recommended for the four-year term by Senator Dianne Feinstein following a selection process by a bipartisan advisory committee created by Feinstein..

“As Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Commission, André has managed to earn the enthusiastic support of both the police officers he is charged with investigating, and the community organizations that often raise concerns regarding police behavior,” Feinstein wrote regarding Birotte’s nomination. “This ability to command respect from all sides bodes well for his nomination to lead federal law enforcement efforts in the communities of the Central District.”

Indeed, and those same qualities bode well for André Birotte’s soon-to-begin tenure as LA’s newest federal judge.

Birotte will replace Judge Gary Feess who is taking senior status.


POSTSCRIPT: By summer’s end, Senator Dianne Feinstein is is likely to send a recommendation to President Obama for a nominee to replace Birotte as U.S. Attorney.

There is much speculation what effect the appointment of a new U.S. Attorney will have on such high profile cases as the continuing investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, Inspector General, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: LASD Lt. Tells of Orders Given by Baca and Tanaka, and Admits to “System Failure” Re: LASD Ability to Investigate Its Own Wrongdoing

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: LEAVINS TAKES THE STAND, PART 1

Last December, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and related actions, an assignment that came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

In May of this year, Deputy James Sexton, one of the seven obstruction defendants, was tried separately. The result was a mistrial. The remaining six—deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins—are on trial now.

Lieutenant Steve Leavins, one of six defendants in the ongoing obstruction of justice trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, took the stand on Friday morning in a packed federal courtroom. In the testimony that followed, Leavins described a chain of events that began with a meeting on August 20, 2011, at which Sheriff Lee Baca (whom Leavins said he’d never met before that day) gave him the orders that set in motion a sequence of actions by Leavins and his five fellow defendants—Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith—that ultimately led to the charges for which Leavins and the other five are now on trial.

According to the prosecution, those actions include, but are not limited to, allegedly helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and endeavoring to bully and cajole sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI.

The jury had already heard in earlier testimony, how the August 20 meeting was called by the sheriff on an emergency basis on the Saturday after Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka first learned that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been found with a contraband cell phone, and that Brown was not any inmate, but an FBI informant. The jury had also heard previously that, two days before the August 20 meeting, Baca had been told by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office that the cell phone and Brown were part of an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails, meaning the whole matter of the cell phone was fully sanctioned by FBI higher-ups.

Nevertheless, according to Leavins, Baca ordered him to launch a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, who was the lead agent on the feds’ undercover probe, and thus responsible for Brown and the cell phone. He also ordered Leavins to “safeguard” Brown, which ultimately led to Brown being hidden—using an elaborate strategy of repeated name changes and avoidance of the normal fingerprinting process—from the FBI.


THE RISKS AND BENEFITS OF TESTIFYING

It is usually considered a risk for a defendant to get on the stand because, in cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant is suddenly subject to questioning that may not be in his or her best interest. Yet on Friday the risk appeared to be mostly paying off for Leavins in that much of what he said bolstered an important part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that all six defendants were good cops following lawful orders that were not of their own making.

In that vein, Leavins described the meetings subsequent to August 20 in which he said he briefed, got approval, and/or had been given orders by Baca or then undersheriff Paul Tanaka (or sometimes both men) about each action he and other defendants took to hide inmate Brown.

On the stand, Leavins’ painted a picture of a hyper-involved sheriff and equally present undersheriff who collectively directed him to circumvent the normal chain of command and report directly to them in meetings that were generally held in Tanaka’s office.

He also told how he had obtained “authorization” from Tanaka before he ordered surveillance of special agent Marx and how, in a meeting in Tanaka’s office, Sheriff Baca had instructed him to contact Marx at her residence “to get facts and information about the introduction of the cell phone.”

Another significant revelation that came out in Friday’s testimony was the fact that, according to Leavins, at least two department-related attorneys gave advice and signed off on the legality of many of the actions that are the now the basis of the government’s criminal charges. These included the hiding of Brown, and the investigation of FBI special agent Marx.

One of the attorneys Leavins said he consulted multiple times was Paul Yoshinaga, a deputy county counsel who was assigned to the sheriff’s department and had his office in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. (Yoshinaga is reportedly also a long-standing personal friend of former undersheriff Tanaka, with the friendship dating as far back as high school when the two were in the same 1976 graduating class from Gardena High.)

The other attorney with whom Leavins said he consulted on repeated occasions about the legality of his actions was Mike Gennaco, head attorney for the Office of Independent Review (OIR). According to Leavins, at one point in a meeting in which the sheriff was also present, Gennaco said that “the FBI was going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone,” meaning the contraband cell that LASD deputy Gilbert Michel had brought in illegally to informant Brown as part of the FBI’s undercover sting. Baca, said Leavins, was in agreement.

“This furthered my belief that we were on firm legal ground to proceed,” Leavins testified of that meeting with Gennaco and Baca.


SYSTEM FAILURE

In another interesting and unexpected feature of both his direct testimony and in cross-examination by prosecutor Brandon Fox, Leavins admitted that he had “become aware that the sheriffs department’s internal mechanism to investigate…abuse” and brutality by deputies toward jail inmates “had failed,” that there was a “systemic breakdown” in supervision, discipline and investigation of abuses “that were occurring on a wide scale.”

Under questioning from Fox, Leavins conceded that, in one instance, he had become aware of a video of an inmate being abused by a deputy while restrained by chains. And yet, despite the presence of the video, both the department’s internal affairs investigators, and an “executive force review panel” concluded that the incident was fine and required no action. Leavins further conceded that, because of the “lack of discipline” signaling “tacit approval” for the deputy’s actions, the man committed more assaults on inmates, and has since been charged with the original assault.

While the theme of deputy abuse of inmates and “systemic breakdown” in the LASD’s ability to investigate such matters was originally brought up during the defense’s questioning of Leavins, it seemed mostly to support the prosecution’s contention that the FBI’s launch of an undercover investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jail system was more than warranted.


BUT WERE THE ORDERS LAWFUL?

Although the just-following-orders part of the defense strategy seemed measurably strengthened by Leavins’ testimony, the contention that these were lawful orders that he and the others were following seemed a harder theme to maintain, due to problems with the timeline in which the actions occurred.

For instance, Leavins had repeatedly insisted that Brown was only moved to outlying areas of the jail system with his name repeatedly changed, not to hide him from the feds, per se, but out of fear for the inmate’s safely because, due to his informant status, corrupt deputies might wish to do him harm. However, in cross examination Leavins conceded that, after Brown stopped cooperating with members of Leavins’ task force in early September 2011, he was moved virtually immediately back to Men’s Central Jail where he remained for 10 days (making him presumably within reach of deputies who might wish him ill) before finally being transferred to state prison.

Also in cross examination, Leavins described his attendance to a meeting on August 29, 2011, that included—among other people—Sheriff Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. It was at that meeting that Birotte told the sheriff to—as Leavins’ put it—”butt out” of the feds’ civil rights investigation into wrongdoing in the LA County Jails. Birotte further said, according to Leavins, that he didn’t want any more discord in the matter, and that he hoped the sheriff’s department would cooperate.

Yet, despite what was made clear at the August 29 meeting, according to Leavins’ earlier testimony, he kept on, as ordered, with a criminal investigation of FBI agent Marx and, in late September, with the sheriff’s encouragement and approval, sent Craig and Long to Marx’ home where the two sergeants falsely threatened to arrest her.

Leavins’ testimony will continue on Tuesday morning.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 3: Lee Baca Personally Signed Off on Massive Overtime Hours for Deputies Hiding Brown

May 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Among the biggest revelations of Thursday,
the third day of trial for LA County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, was a document showing that former sheriff Lee Baca personally approved of the extensive and costly overtime required to pull off the elaborate scheme of hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Baca’s name was one of three approvals necessary for the overtime—two to pre-approve, one to sign off that the work had been completed.

The other pre-approval name was Lt. Greg Thompson, then Sexton’s direct supervisor, now retired and, along with Sexton, one of seven charged with obstruction of justice for their respective parts in the Anthony Brown affair.

The significance of Baca’s name on the overtime docs was not, of course, the approval of the overtime itself, but as an indication that Baca was in a position of some kind of oversight.


CONCERNED ABOUT THREATS TO THE DEFENDANT, FBI GIVES SEXTON A CELL PHONE

It was yet another day when indicted defendant James Sexton’s name was barely mentioned during the prosecution’s questioning of its various witnesses.

But when Sexton’s name finally did come up it was in a surprising context.

According to FBI special agent Leah Marx, when the FBI set up the first meeting with Sexton that would result in 37 different contacts by phone and in person, he had been already been talking for a while to another LA special agent named Patrick Hampel, whom he considered a friend.

Marx said she passed a message to Sexton through Hampel, that “there were credible threats against him and his life might be in danger.”

We are genuinely concerned for your safety. That’s all, bro. Please don’t think this was ever about the case, more like she found out some stuff that makes her think you are in jeopardy. She’s a good person and so is Dalton [her partner]. I’ve drank, played vball, hung out with both of them, and I trust them like I trust you. They know we are friends and are trying to do the right thing by me; ie warning my friend who may need some help…

(WitnessLA reported more on the email from Hampel earlier this year.)

After that, according to Marx, she and her colleagues communicated on a regular basis with Sexton either by phone or in person for the next two years.

In order to make communication with the FBI easier and safer for Sexton, given the possible threats, Marx and her team gave him a phone he could use to call the feds.

In return, Sexton gave Marx’s team information and documents.


On the topic of phones, much of Thursday’s testimony came from special agent Marx who was questioned particularly closely by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien. who challenged the wisdom of the FBI’s use of inmate Brown as an informant. O’Brien pointed out that Brown was a convicted armed robber notorious for his embroidering of the truth, and had just been sentenced to 423 years in prison.

O’Brien also questioned the ethics of smuggling a contraband telephone into a custody facility.

KPCC’s Rina Palta was at court Thursday and has focused her report on the matter of the cell phone. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Leah Marx told the jury that Brown gave information on “more than” 50 use-of-force incidents before being discovered by sheriff’s deputies working the jails.

“He provided a significant amount of information on deputies,” Marx said.

Defense attorney Tom O’Brien, however, put a less flattering pall on the relationship, pointing to the $1,500 in phone cards and toiletry money deposited into Brown’s account by the FBI over the years. O’Brien also noted Brown’s dozen or so felony convictions that have landed him a sentence of more than 400 years in state prison.

Particularly, O’Brien focused on an FBI sting in which agents smuggled a cell phone with video and photo capability to Brown through an allegedly corrupt deputy sheriff who was later charged for smuggling contraband in an unrelated case.

“The FBI has published reports on the dangers of cell phones behind bars,” O’Brien said, even as agents provided one for Brown. The dangers include making it possible for inmates to order crimes on the outside and coordinating unrest in the jails, O’Brien said.

Marx said the FBI monitored any calls or texts sent via the phone and had the option to cancel service at any time.

Under questioning, Marx also told the jury the FBI had unsuccessfully attempted to outfit Brown with prescription glasses and a cross equipped with hidden cameras to record inmate beatings.

ABC-7 also has a report on the testimony of special agent Marx.

The trial continues on Friday.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

Pandora’s Box: the Sexton Obstruction of Justice Trial Continues, Tanaka Drops F-Bombs, Baca Unlikely to Testify

May 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday is Day Three of the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton,
who is charged with engaging in a conspiracy to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal law enforcement agents.

Day one consisted of jury selection and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. Then, on Wednesday, Day 2, the prosecution called its first four witnesses.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, is the youngest and the lowest ranking of seven who were indicted pertaining to the Brown matter. (His trial has been “severed” from the trial of the other six. That trial with multiple defendants will begin after Sexton’s case is completed.)

His defense team, led by former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, intends to show that, while he participated in the Brown matter, Sexton—at the time 26-years old and 3 years out of the sheriff’s academy—was following the orders from multiple layers of supervisors, most of whom have not been indicted.


SUDDEN CHANGE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY & TANAKA INVOLVEMENT

The prosecution, for its part, intends to show how Sexton and other department members conspired to keep Brown away from the reach of any federal agents.

In this regard, among the interesting points that arose in Day two, came in the testimony by two witnesses that, after investigators at the LASD figured out that Anthony Brown was a federal informant, the department suddenly changed its policy about how members of “outside law enforcement” could meet with or interview inmates.

Prior to the discovery that Brown was part of a covert FBI investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, FBI agents and others had only to sign in, show a picture ID, explained Sgt. Robert Bayes, who was, at the time of the Brown incident, working as an investigator in the jails. Afterward, any visit required a lengthy series of permissions and approvals

And, according to an internal LASD email admitted as evidence on Wednesday, when it came to Brown himself, any visit by federal agents had to be approved directly by then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Yet in a second email about the permission chain distributed more widely to department supervisors, Tanaka’s name was removed at his direction (according to another email), thereby masking the direct nature of his involvement in the hiding of Brown.

According to yet another LASD email distributed to the jury, permission to produce Brown for a writ of habeas corpus to appear in front of a federal grand jury must include the opinion of county counsel. However, the email specified—without apparent irony—that the county lawyer selected to be part of the permission process should be a particular man who conveniently happened to be on vacation for a month.

(There was also a lively moment in Bayes’ testimony when he described standing outside Tanaka’s office while his supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, briefed Tanaka about some part of Brown’s federal involvement. At one point in the meeting, according to Bayes, Tanaka expelled himself from his office with a loud and long series of f-bombs.)


FOR HIS OWN GOOD

The sheriff’s department official explanation for the hiding of Anthony Brown has always been that, once he was outed as an FBI informant, he needed to be hidden for his own good, so that no vengeful deputies would do him harm now that he’d been outed as a snitch.

Yet, in other emails entered into evidence and recordings played in court on Wednesday, various other high level department members, including then ICIB Captain, Tom Carey, and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, appeared to be involved in the direction of elaborate actions that were primarily designed to keep Anthony Brown away from any federal agents so that LASD team members could find out what he’d told the feds about wrongdoing in the jails.

Any possible danger from deputies was not mentioned, except on a couple of instances by Brown himself in a recording made when he was being questioned and expressed his reluctance to spill what he knew of deputy misconduct to the two deputies who were interviewing him.


AND WHERE IS SEXTON IN ALL THIS?

Interestingly, very little of the evidence presented on Wednesday pertained at all to the defendant, James Sexton. And when his name did come up in the testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, it was when Marx described some of what Sexton had told her and her colleagues about the Brown operation in the more than 30 meetings Sexton reportedly agreed to in order to provide information to the FBI and members of the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Among the things that Sexton told the FBI about the matter of hiding Anthony Brown, Marx testified, was that he had never heard of another instance when an inmate had been hidden from a law enforcement agency.

On Thursday the prosecution team—led by Assistant U.S Attorneys Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes—will continue with its witnesses.

When it is the defense’s turn, Sexton’s attorneys are expected to call Paul Tanaka, among others.

Although former sheriff Lee Baca is also on the defense witness list, we have learned that he is unlikely to be called.


FOR ADDITIONAL COVERAGE OF THE SEXTON TRIAL…. See ABC 7′s excellent rundowns on the first two days (here and here) and the smart report by KPCC’s Rina Palta. Plus the LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting story on the trial’s first day.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney | 14 Comments »

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